Here's a fascinating, and quite epic new release from veteran jazz trumpet master Wadada Leo Smith, titled America's National Parks. The new album for Cuneiform Records contains six LENGTHY tracks, each one dedicated to and inspired by "the scenic splendor, historic legacy, and political controversies of the country's public landscapes. Writing for his newly expanded Golden Quintet, Smith crafts six extended works that explore, confront and question the preserved natural resources that are considered the most hallowed ground in the U.S. – and some that should be." Joining Smith on this journey are Anthony David (piano), Ashley Walters (cello), John Lindberg (bass), and Pheeroan akLaff (drums).
Much of America's National Parks is moody, atmospheric jazz, meditative rhythms allowing for trumpet, piano, and cello to take most of the instrumental flights, though the bass and drums do also have their time in the spotlight. The dark opener "New Orleans: The National Culture Park USA 1718" lumbers along at a slow, undulating pace, each member of the band given a spot to solo, and they give it their all in making this a prime example of melancholy jazz at its finest. The more expansive "Eileen Jackson Southern,1920-2002: A Literary National Park" brightens things up a tad, with Smith channeling his inner Miles Davis via some haunting trumpet melodies. This leads in to "Yellowstone: The First National Park and the Spirit of America – The Mountains, Super-Volcano Caldera and Its Ecosystem 1872", another epic journey, this one filled with yearning piano and trumpet strains, and Smith's soul searching leads the way on the gentler, more atmospheric "The Mississippi River: Dark and Deep Dreams Flow the River – a National Memorial Park c. 5000 BC", the albums longest track at just over 30 minutes long and another vehicle for the entire band to solo. The quirky, fluttering, near free-jazz of "Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks: The Giant Forest, Great Canyon, Cliffs, Peaks, Waterfalls and Cave Systems 1890" is also America's National Parks' shortest piece at just under 7-minutes, but it's no less dramatic, and the album ends with a bang on "Yosemite: The Glaciers, the Falls, the Wells and the Valley of Goodwill 1890" as engaging trumpet & cello blast off into the stratosphere over a cacophony of piano tinkering and wild rhythms.
I'll say it right now, there's a lot of music here on America's National Parks, and the majority of it isn't your normal upbeat, instantly accessible smooth jazz by any means. Wadada Leo Smith has conjured up some epic, expansive music that owes as much to avant garde as it does to free-jazz and classic jazz. Anyway you slice it though, this is an intriguing listen that needs multiple exposures before all the rewards reveal themselves.
New Orleans: The National Culture Park USA 1718 20:59
Eileen Jackson Southern,1920-2002: A Literary National Park 09:40
Yellowstone: The First National Park and the Spirit of America – The Mountains, Super-Volcano Caldera and Its Ecosystem 1872 12:34
The Mississippi River: Dark and Deep Dreams Flow the River – a National Memorial Park c. 5000 BC 31:09
Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks: The Giant Forest, Great Canyon, Cliffs, Peaks, Waterfalls and Cave Systems 1890 06:48
Yosemite: The Glaciers, the Falls, the Wells and the Valley of Goodwill 1890 15:23